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William’s ‘Menagerie’ shines at A.C.T

ACT’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” was stunning in its portrayal of a family on edge and the emotions it conveyed.

“Menagerie” is one of Williams’ most famous plays. It is an autobiographical tale of an overbearing mother, Amanda Wingfield, and her tired children. Like any situation charged with emotion, Williams’ play is full of tension, passion and humor. “Menagerie” is both funny and painful to watch.

The son, Tom is eager for a life beyond his home but loathes leaving his fragile, crippled sister Laura. She is afraid of the world and is rendered dibilatatingly shy by her limp.

Heidi Armbruster shines as Laura, giving the character an air of deep emotional complexity. Laura is a difficult character to capture, but Armbruster never wavers in her portrayal of the timid young woman whose moments of happiness are awkward. Her deepest loyalties are to her brother and the shelf-full of small glass animals that make up her menagerie.

Robin Mosely plays Amanda. Mosely is frighteningly good as the failed Southern debutante obsessed with marrying her daughter off to the first “gentleman caller” she can. Denying Laura’s disability and shyness, Amanda wants to unburden herself of her own failed marriage by marrying her daughter off.

Unfortunately for Amanda, Laura is so shy that she can barely talk to anyone, let alone a strange man. The only person Laura is comfortable with is her younger brother Tom, an aspiring writer and traveler who is desperate to leave home.

Tom, played by Joey Collins, is protective of Laura and is always in conflict with his mother. His loyalties are divided between guarding his sister and leaving home. Collins played Tom well, with lots of energy but did not carry the sounthern accent well. As one critic in the audience put it, it was a little too Gomer Pyle.

However, Collins plays especially well off the other actors. Tom’s love of his sister is always clear, as is the harsh tension between Tom and his mother.

Tom is finally harassed into bringing home a friend from work under the guise of having a nice dinner. Of course, the friend or gentleman caller, is the only boy Laura has ever had feelings for. Laura is so upset by the return of her former crush that she first refuses to come to the dinner table and then faints when forced to confront him.

The gentleman caller is played by Neil Hopkins. This character is less complex than the others, and Hopkins does fine with the role. His portrayal of a “Gentleman caller” is straightforward, basking in the way Laura and Tom remember him from his high school glory days.

The Glass Menagerie is directed by Laird Williamson and runs through Sunday, Apr. 29 at the Geary Theater.